In 2016, when I was considering doing a triathlon someday, I signed up to be a volunteer at the inaugural TriToFinish Sanford race. I ended up meeting my friend Christine, that I now refer to as my sis, as we were both volunteers on the bike course at the race. It was my first time volunteering at a race. For the first time I saw some of the behind the scenes work that goes into a smooth sailing race, and I only saw a small part of it. Only months later I decided to sign up for my first triathlon that I would complete on my 30th birthday – not the same triathlon, but in the same place.
This year was the third annual Sanford triathlon and it was a weekend about redemption for many athletes and the race crew. Last year severe weather caused flooding that unfortunately led to the race directors deciding to cancel the race entirely. This year everyone had their sights set on a well run race with good weather, and we weren’t disappointed. The race went well and the weather (mostly) cooperated. We had a little bit of rain and fog, but it was nothing compared to last year, and everyone had a safe race.
I got to see the behind the scenes action and be a part of it, working with the race crew to set up the race on Friday. We spent more than 8 hours setting up the transition area, working registration and packet pick-up, and getting those last little details in place. Even after we left, the race director and a few others stayed to finish setting up the course. The day of the race we arrived bright and early at 5am to get registration and packet pick-up set up. We made sure that athletes had what they needed and got the direction they were looking for. When the race started, my friend Aidalys and I were in charge of swim count – counting each person who went into the water and then counting how many came out. We were both nervous, since we were both working our first triathlon, but we got the job done and made sure everyone was accounted for. At the finish line, my friend Christine and I cheered for the athletes as they crossed the finish line and helped take timing chips off of their ankles. Once the awards were given out and the last athlete finished, it was back to work. Time to take down everything that we had put up, just barely more than 24 hours before.
Only mere hours into the set up on Friday, I said to my fellow workers – “Every athlete should volunteer or work at a race. Everyone should see all that it takes to set these up.” It wasn’t that I had taken it for granted before – I knew there was a ton of work involved that I did not realize. But even hearing from my friends that work races did not have the same effect as actually physically being a part of the process. The details, the planning, the hard work and hours on your feet are incredible. So much is involved in making that course look the way it does, from how the bike racks are set up to what angle the finish chute takes. Those that work these races aren’t in it to get rich, by any means – we do it because we love the sport, we love our fellow athletes, and we believe in humanity.
So I encourage you to sign up to volunteer at an event. It may not always be easy and it certainly isn’t glamorous. If you are an athlete, volunteering will help you appreciate the work that goes into these events and the people doing the work. If you are not an athlete, you may be inspired to become one. Every race I have volunteered or worked I have been moved to tears at some point – whether it was watching an athlete push themselves to their very limit to reach their goals or just hearing someone tell us how much they appreciate what we are doing.
If you are interested in volunteering, check out some local events and contact their race director or volunteer coordinator. You really can never have too many volunteers! Here are a couple of races/companies that are near and dear to my heart that could use volunteers to help at their events:
- Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon – this huge race (over 26,000 runners) takes a lot of help from volunteers to make it happen. Detroit holds a special place in my heart as my first marathon and I will be running it again in October for a third time as a race ambassador. I would love to see you there!
- TriToFinish – their inaugural Sanford Triathlon was the first race I volunteered at. They have several events this summer and could use your help!